Saturday, December 29, 2018

Some Pale in Comparison

Rosé Champagne can be a strange breed.  The diversity of styles is mind-boggling, and often one is left pondering if a bottling or glass in front of you is true and valid.  The more expensive deluxe cuvees can vary considerably, and if anything can be even more difficult to understand.

The Prince very generously brought along for consumption a rosé that baffled him in style.  Immediately he voiced his concerns about the style.  I tend to be quite open and accepting of the varied styles.  Sure I have seen a broad range of them, but I know that if I had “no problem” with it stylistically, we’d all get to drink it sooner, and without the need to analyse it to pieces!  Rather self-serving approach, don’t you say?
The wine in question, the 2006 Taittinger ‘Comtes de Champagne’ Champagne RoséThis style is a relative rarity, the Blanc de Blancs generally more popular, with its fine white floral and citrus fruit flavours, refined acidity and intensity, and stylishness.  The ‘Comtes de Champagne’ Chardonnay could hardly be represented better.  But the ‘Comtes Rosé’ is a different beast again.  It’s more about the Pinot Noir showcasing itself and what pink brings.  On colour, this is deep and positively peach-pink, rather than what appears to be the more fashionable pale and delicate pink.  There’s a touch of age showing too.  The bouquet and palate features fruitiness, with savoury strawberries and an amalgam of ripe red berries.  The fruit is prominent and actually allows sweetness to take over from the savouriness.  The bready-yeasty autolysis is very much in a support role and quite discreet.  The mouthfeel has lusciousness, with the red wine addition extremely harmonious, and the tannins beautifully integrated.  In a way, this is a sparkling wine more as a red than a rosé!  It sits at that end of the spectrum of expression, and is truly delicious.  The more recent rosé Champagnes – SWMBO and I have enjoyed, I must state, have been pale in style in comparison.       

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Chateau d’Yquem 2004 and 1998

It was the most pleasant of surprises when SWMBO and I were contacted through mutual friends by The Nadister if we’d like to share in drinking two bottles of Chateau d’Yquem.  It took a nano-second to think about it and reply ‘Yes!’  It wasn’t going to be a super-serious tasting, but 6 friends getting together, tasting and drinking the wines, with some appropriate food, and at place, because we had a fairly large table.  Even the glassware was supplied –Riedel Sommelier Sauternes stemware!  In these circumstances, a table is an easy one to share.

The Nadister has a collection of Yquems, but he chose two, from either side of the change of ownership from the Lur Saluces family, and LVMH, his theory being that the wines under the previous ownership were richer, weightier and more complex.  My theory was that the newer wines were more refined and elegant, thus better, and that they would develop the richness and complexities as seen in the older wines with some more bottle-age.  Clearly we need to do more research on this…
The two Yquems were from good but not necessarily outstanding vintages.  The 2004 Ch. d’Yquem Sauternes comes from one of my favourite drinking Sauternes vintages.  It’s not the richest or most intense or ageworthy year.  But is fresh, elegant, youthful and delightful, and delicious wines have come from it.  I’ve been lucky to have tasted the 2004 Yquem several times, and this bottle was brilliant, earning my praise as the other bottles that have come my way.  Light golden yellow colour, this was redolent of waxy, lanolin Semillon fruit first and foremost, still with primary notes, though nearly one and a half decades old.  Then a subtle marmalade and honied botrytis layer, with supporting oak.  Elegance and freshness of mouthfeel, but still with opulence and decadence.  You could tell it has plenty of time ahead, and it will develop those more complex flavours.  Everything about this is finesse.  If you want to be critical, it was a smaller-scale wine, but that’s harsh indeed. 

Then the 1998 Ch. d’Yquem Sauternes from a year where the harvest was split into two sessions by a period of rain.  Plenty of botrytis infection resulted.  This was darker in colour, golden yellow with a hint of orange.  Darker aromas and flavours with tropical fruits, crystallised fruits, honey, nectar and orange marmalade with the beginnings of barley sugar, toffee and a touch of caramel.  Lovely concentration and depth, more so than the 2004, and with a degree of power and linearity, and the softening of mouthfeel, but allowing greater opulence and richness show.  My previous experiences with the 1998 haven’t left the best impressions, especially with the 1997 next to it being brilliant, but this bottle was a glorious, altogether wine.  Not magical as one from a great year, but telling you it’s close to it.

The juxtaposition of the two years was instructive indeed.  Both extremely good to drink, and yet so different.  The Nadister is also a thinker.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Michael Begat Michael

The Chairman had made a special trip to visit us, and with him, he brought a number of vinous treasures, from his cellar, not ‘long left’ in our case, but one that has regular withdrawals, so that nothing gets too old.  (Well, that’s the official line.)

A little while ago, we had opened up a bottle of the very first Wynns ‘John Riddoch’ Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon – from the 1982 vintage, and it was glorious, in great condition, showing both strong varietal character and structure, with the benefits of bottle-age bringing secondary and tertiary expression
So it was a treat for The Chairman to bring and open the first Wynns ‘Michael’ Coonawarra Hemitage – from the 1990 vintage.  This is a wine I remember well on release; from a great vintage with ripeness, and destined for a long life ahead of it.  It was inspired by the then one-off 1955 Michael Shiraz which had extraordinary personality, some of which supposedly came from the barrels that previously housed fortified wine.
On this showing, the 1990 Wynns ‘Michael’ Coonawarra Hermitage was remarkably refined, still with a dark-red colour and some garnet hues, but near impenetrable.  SWMBO and I thought it was going to be a bit of a monster, but no, it had perfume and fragrance, showing black cherry and berry fruit with that classic mint and herb notes that speaks of Coonawarra.  Don’t get me wrong, it was rich and succulently sweet in fruitiness, and tempered with very fine-grained tannin structure.  The acidity was perfect in balance and gave vitality to the wine.  Subtle secondary and tertiary dried herb and earth, maybe a little game too, and just a hint of TCA that came in and out of perception – so that gave a little cause for concern, but in all practicality din nothing to stop us drinking and enjoying it.  It was a beautifully elegant and deliciously sweet-fruited and refined wine.
The Chairman’s name is Michael, who begat this Michael Hermitage for us to share.  Thank you!      

Friday, December 21, 2018

Lafite, Latour and Mouton 1982

These iconic wines have been in the ‘long left cellar’ for nearly three and a half decades, and in that time I’ve wondered about when to broach them and who to share them with.  It has been a nagging problem at the back of my mind all that time, but it has also been a source of delight thinking and planning the possible solutions.

The wines are truly iconic.  Thirty years ago, first-growth Bordeaux reds were the epitome of the wine world.  Sure there was, and still is great Burgundy and Rhone, and the special wines Piedmont and Tuscany; great Californian reds were not quite there yet.  But across the whole world, claret took centre stage.  In this country where we are cooler-climate Pinot Noir-centric, and to a lesser degree enamoured with Syrah, the Bordeaux-variety Blended Reds seem to have taken a knock-back.  But those with a global perspective will know the reality that Bordeaux still rules the roost.  Just go to any true English wine merchant or trader in the U.S., or in any part of Asia.  And look what heads the list at any reputable auction house – anywhere on the planet.

These are the big three – Lafite-Rothschild, Latour and Mouton-Rothschild.  These still command the greatest respect and prices (allowing for bizarre anomalies – does this include Petrus?) They are the first growths of Pauillac.  The other first-growths Haut-Brion in the Graves, and Margaux in Margaux are equally revered, but the tight-knit grouping of the three Pauillacs make them a unique trio.  It wasn’t always this way; it was Lafite and Latour, with Mouton joining them by legal decree only in 1973. 

The wines are all the quintessential left bank Bordeaux reds.  Consistently over decades, the character has been the same, and reflect their geographical and geological position in the appellation, the cepage, and philosophy of winemaking and style, including tradition.  In short, the Lafite-Rothschild is the most elegant.  In blind tastings with the other two, it often is overlooked by those newer to the wines.  But it always develops well in the glass to reveal a complex myriad of flavour detail, with perfect structure to match.  Clearly Cabernet Sauvignon-based, but Merlot has its say.  The Latour can be a stupendous monolithic expression of Cabernet Sauvignon purity and intensity.  The drive and line is really unmatched by others.  Yet it has the most wonderful sense of style and class.  It usually is the longest-lived.  Then Mouton-Rothschild, vigorously promoted to its proper place to first-growth by Baron Philippe.  Mouton is the most opulent and exotic, and also features the richness that Cabernet Sauvignon is capable of.  It has the attributes that draw drinkers to its array of decadence.

And then the vintage.  In the context of years around 1982, 1975 was the last classic year.  Then the hot 1976.  1977 was a disaster – cool and wet.  But 1978 was miracle year, saved by a classic Indian Summer,  Most 1978s are elegant but have been beautiful.  1979 was another excellent year, maybe a bitmore soft and forward than ideal.  1980 was a lean, green year, pretty in its youth only.  1981 was an elegant, correct vintage.  Then 1992, deemed too hot – the wines were sweet and fleshy, and the U’K. experts said they’d develop quickly.  1983 was a hot and very dry year, with ripe fruit and not enough freshness. 1984 a cool year that people tried to talk up.  Then finally, the lovely pairing of 1985, more balanced and proportioned, and 1986, the superb wines with the hard core that would take a long time to show their best.  It took American Robert Parker to recognise the greatness of 1982.  This vintage of claret made his reputation, which stands today.  Begrudgingly, the Brits came around to his perception.  The 1982s remain among the great vintages to date.

So with life at the crossroads, SWMBO  and I decided to open the bottles.  It was at Nessie’s pre-Christmas dinner, and we had a number of special guests, including The Chairman.  Around a dozen of us all up.  The perfect number to share a bottle for a good taste.  There were the usual fears.  Would the corks come out well – they did.  Will there be any wines corked – no.  Would any show brettanomyces – no.  Thank goodness, they were all go.  How did they look and drink.  We took the usual serving order as the way to do it.
On  first impression, all were dark-coloured still.  They all smelt of the same ilk.  The similarities stronger than the differences.  Classical blackcurrants and black fruits, with a touch of secondary and tertiary development.  Concentrated, deep and dense, and clearly complex detailed.  Then they began to separate into their individual identities.  The 1982 Ch. Lafite-Rothschild Pauillac was the most elegant.  Fantastical in its array of aromatics and flavours.  Black fruits with softer redder fruits.  Beautiful nuances of herb and earth with pencilly oak.  Refine and perfectly judged tannins.  It was a complete experience.  Then the 1982 Ch. Latour Pauillac.  The most intense and penetratingly linear wine of the three.  Cassis and blackcurrant heaven.  Bright and sweet fruit with a tad more acid and tannin structure.  Absolutely no coarseness, just class and breed.  Beautifilly handled pencilly oak again.  And followed up by the 1982 Ch. Mouton-Rothchild Pauillac.  For me the most divisive.  This had the most primary expression, still sweetly ripe, yes, opulent, blackcurrant and cassis flavours.  The richness of this wine had it all over the other two.  But the tannin extraction and structure the least refined.  Again, not course, but still needing time to resolve.  Votes for the best were pretty much evenly split, though my choice was for the Lafite.

It was a special moment in time in my tasting and drinking experience, as it was for all the other dinner guests.  We possibly could have made more of the occasion, but this occasion was more than memorable, and made it a stand-out.  Of course we couldn’t add others to the dinner list and share the bottles with more people.  But the line has to be drawn – on when to open them and who is going to be there.  Then don’t look back.  

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Barolo Bingo

The Chairman decided to bring a Barolo to the annual fine dinner, but wondered if it would be the only Piedmont wine, as Burgundy rules at the Nessie’s household.  He needed not to have worried as most Pinot Noir fans are also Nebbiolo fans too.  His wine, a 2011 vintage was match by another 2011 Barolo – bingo!
The two Barolos were a contrast in style.  The Chairman’s 2011 Vietti ‘Castiglione Falletto’ Barolo was a study in the modern style, fruit from a number of vineyards, and the wine aged 24 months in cask, whereas the 2011 Cavallotto ‘Riserva Bricco Bochis’ Barolo was a hark back to tradition, a single vineyard wine, aged 4-5 years in Slavonian oak botti.  The Vietti was about elegance, bright and fresh fruit, and a spring in its step, whereas the Cavallotto had depth and breadth, and a brooding disposition.  Yet in some ways, the wines were more similar than dissimilar.  Surprisingly, the tannins were tame, and both wines were quite accessible and enjoyable now.  Most of us who have tried a selection of Barolo are aware of how fiercely the extraction can be, and such wines need time to mellow.  The fruit characters were in the same camp – dark red and black fruits, a touch of oak in the Vietti, or so it seemed, with the more savoury big format flavours in the Cavallotto, but not worlds apart as modern and traditional could be.  Lovely rich fruit, more savoury and spicy than floral and faded roses.  Both exhibited very fine-grained tannins, and the Vietti a tad more acidity, but then the Cavallotto more density and blacker fruit.

These were both delicious and when a vote was asked for a favourite, it was pretty even, with maybe one or two of the dozen drinkers giving the nod to the Vietti.  My vote went to tradition.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Unfair Advantage

The proceedings for dinner had been concluded.  All the sparkling wines and most of the still whites finished off.  The Nessie invited us to sit down at the dinner table.  JK and his helpers had put the red wines into flights, as you do for a ‘serious’ wine night.  It is a difficult thing to do sometimes, as it all depends on what people bring along to contribute.  Unless there is a degree of co-ordination in the planning, the wines turning up can be pretty diverse.  If you plan too much, you lose spontaneity.  And different wines have different weight of meaning to the owner.  One that might seem ‘ordinary’ to one person could be another’s pride and joy.
So the first pairing were Pinot Noirs.  The 2006 Wooing Tree Central Otago Pinot Noir alongside a 2010 Rousseau Mazy-Chambertin Grand Cru.  “Not fair!” you may cry out, but that’s what was there.  The Wooing Tree was dark hearted and brooding, still, after so much time.  It had a dense core of ripe black fruits, with dark herbs and minerals.  Maybe a touch of thyme too.  Big on the palate, the tannins just beginning to resolve.  It still made a statement.  Maybe it knew what it was up against. The burgundy from a grand cru site, from an impeccably great year, from one of the best produces.  The words here were ‘aromatic finesse’.  This has never been Rousseau’s biggest, boldest, most striking, exotic or greatest appellation, and it’s easy to dismiss its lightness when comparing it to Chambertin. ‘Clos de Beze’ or ‘Clos St Jacques’.  But those with a bit of experience love its cool fragrance and beauty, and refined tannin structure.  So it was with this 2010, great florality, and dear I say it some confectionary lift – from whole, uncrushed berry fermentation.  Then nuances of herbs and an array of red fruits.  Yes, this is Mazy-Chambertin class.  An unfair advantage to the burgundy – yes, but the Kiwi wine was not disgraced.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Blanc Melange

It is always interesting when wine lovers get together and bring bottles to share over dinner.  Somehow the red wines tend to get grouped together into instructive flights.  And of course bubblies tend to get served first – but in no real particular order.  In a way it doesn’t matter with the sparklings, whether one is Chardonnay-based or Pinot Noir based, and even vintages, as long as they’re not decades apart, can be served in any order.  And strangely, the still white table wines tend to get treated that way too, but they really do deserve being put into order and instructive flights.  Sometimes that is difficult, because the divergence between them all is a bit too much to handle.
So it was at the Loch Ness’s house dinner.  Three whites of particular pedigree appeared, and it would have been difficult to group them together.  There was a logical order, nevertheless.  And’d here’s my take on it.  First would be the 2014 Ch. Reynon Bordeaux Blanc.  This is the brainchild of Denis Dubordieu, the vinous whizz of Bordeaux.  16.5 ha of the 21 ha is devoted to Sauvignon Blanc and a little Semillon, the rest to red.  The wine is fruit focussed but sees barrel-aging.  Tasting it, the flavours of green stonefruits and herbs, along with softer fruits come through, along with a layering of oak.  Some people don’t see the oak as a major component, but I tend to.  There’s freshness here, but also richness as though there’s barrel-ferment.  In any circumstances, it’s delightfully refreshing with its richness, and showing an array of fruits.  Delicious!

Then I’d have the 2015 Wittmann Westhofen Morstein GG Riesling Trocken.  A Rheinhessen at 13.0% alc. and a reputation to burn. This delivered in spades, with its rich and weighty palate with a broad spectrum of savoury citrus fruits and minerals.  Very fine nuances of earth, florals and honey just add layers of complexity.  It may have the Rheinhessen softness, but there’s plenty of subtle acidity.  The weight and fruit extract of this really is quite amazing.  After the precision of Clemens Busch, the richness of Wittmann makes this label my second favourite in the dry German stakes.  And no doubt for SWMBO.  There were some startled palates at dinner, who had never tried Wittmann before.  A revelation then, for them.
And to cap off the whites, an oldie, but super-goodie: a 1994 Leasingham Classic Clare Rhine Riesling.  A cool year in the Clare Valley makes the style closer to the Eden Valley for me.  The back label says enjoy over the next 3 years.  Well, this was 24 y.o.,  Bright lemon-gold, this was concentrated and creamy, with gorgeous honied and floral-citrus flavours.  Incredibly, no oxidation.  Being very critical, it could be perceived to be a tad drying out.  I had no problem with that.  Certainly past the tertiary stage and into beauty and lift rather than earthy and decrepit.  A wine from the Bush-Blocker.  How may more treasures like this does he have?